New Release Spotlight–March 5, 2019

Well, it’s a day late, but I just couldn’t bear to let such an amazing new release week go without a Spotlight! The past few weeks have not been a good time to live in China. The pollution has been really high most days since early-February, and our VPN access has been practically non-existent since last Saturday. In China, VPNs are necessary in order to access “forbidden” websites like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Blogger, Goodreads, etc. Since my blog was created in Blogger, I haven’t been able to access my blog for long periods of time to write up the New Release Spotlight. I’ve had to do it in little pieces, but it’s finally complete!

There are SO MANY amazing titles this week. Don’t miss new books from popular authors including: Mo Willems, Lisa Graff, Matt de la Pena, Jennifer E. Smith, Geoff Rodkey, and Mac Barnett. Two titles this week have four starred reviews each–not unheard of, but certainly not common. I’m looking most forward to Superman by Matt de la Pena and The Lovely War by Julie Berry.

NOTE: Titles start with YA and go down in age to picture books at the end. Scroll to the bottom for sequels. Titles highlighted in purple are those that received two or more starred professional reviews.

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Lovely War (Julie Berry)

They are Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette. A classical pianist from London, a British would-be architect-turned-soldier, a Harlem-born ragtime genius in the U.S. Army, and a Belgian orphan with a gorgeous voice and a devastating past. Their story, as told by goddess Aphrodite, who must spin the tale or face judgment on Mount Olympus, is filled with hope and heartbreak, prejudice and passion, and reveals that, though War is a formidable force, it’s no match for the transcendent power of Love.

PAGES: 480
GENRES: historical fiction, romance
THEMES: WWII, Greek mythology
READALIKES: Wait for Me (Leech), Wolf By Wolf (Graudin)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, Hornbook starred, Publishers Weekly Annex starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “An unforgettable romance so Olympian in scope, human at its core, and lyrical in its prose that it must be divinely inspired.” (Kirkus starred review, 1 Jan 2019)

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Opposite of Always (Justin Reynolds)

Debut author! When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling–hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. But then Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it.

PAGES: 457
GENRES: romance
THEMES: time-travel, grief
READALIKES: All Our Yesterdays (Terrill), Before I Fall (Oliver)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, SLJ starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “There are some big questions about choice, consequences, loyalty, and love in this novel, and Reynolds beautifully complements those heavy concerns with the sweet, funny, and genuine voice of his protagonist.” (Booklist starred review, 1 Dec 2018)

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Superman: Dawnbreaker (Matt de la Pena)

When the dawn breaks, a hero rises.

His power is beyond imagining. Clark Kent has always been faster, stronger–better–than everyone around him. But he wasn’t raised to show off, and drawing attention to himself could be dangerous. Plus, it’s not like he’s earned his powers…yet.
But power comes with a price.

PAGES: 336
GENRES: adventure
THEMES: superheroes, Superman, crime
READALIKES: Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Bardugo)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Familiar characters make appearances—hello, Lex Luthor—but a few Mexican characters appear in minor roles, including Clark’s love interest Gloria Alvarez, a promising Dreamer. A wonderful, bold interpretation of a DC icon that aspires to embrace all readers, new and old.” (Kirkus starred reviews, 1 Feb 2019)

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Field Notes on Love (Jennifer E. Smith)

It’s the perfect idea for a romantic week together: traveling across America by train. But then Hugo’s girlfriend dumps him. Her parting gift: the tickets for their long-planned last-hurrah-before-uni trip. Only, it’s been booked under her name. Nontransferable, no exceptions. Mae is still reeling from being rejected from USC’s film school. When she stumbles across Hugo’s ad for a replacement Margaret Campbell (her full name!), she’s certain it’s exactly the adventure she needs to shake off her disappointment and jump-start her next film. A cross-country train trip with a complete stranger might not seem like the best idea. But to Mae and Hugo, both eager to escape their regular lives, it makes perfect sense.

PAGES: 432
GENRES: romance
THEMES: dating, train travel
READALIKES: Windfall (Smith)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “The author explores what it means to seek independence, while still clinging to childhood comforts. The intriguing backdrop of train travel gives the story a nostalgic mood, perfect for the soul-searching that the two teens engage in.” (SLJ, 1 Feb 2019)

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Dealing in Dreams (Lilliam Rivera)

Sixteen year old Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City, but when she sets her sights on giving this life up for a prestigious home in Mega Towers, she must decide if she’s willing to do the unspeakable to get what she wants.

PAGES: 325
GENRES: science fiction, dystopia
THEMES: gangs, girl power
READALIKES: Six of Crows (Bardugo), The Cruel Prince (Black)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, SLJ starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “The characters are allowed to fully embody the violent ideals of Mega City without artificial moralizing—the blurred line between hero and villain verges on nonexistent. Instead, readers are left with a more ambiguous—and ambitious—tale that will have them questioning what kinds of people they’d be if freed from society’s mores.” (Booklist starred, 1 Dec 2019)

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Barely Missing Everything (Matt Mendez)

Juan has plans. He’s going to get out of El Paso, Texas, on a basketball scholarship and make something of himself–or at least find something better than his mom Fabi’s cruddy apartment, her string of loser boyfriends, and a dead dad.

His best friend JD has plans, too. He’s going to be a filmmaker one day, like Quinten Tarantino or Guillermo del Toro (NOT Steven Spielberg).

Fabi doesn’t have a plan anymore. When you get pregnant at sixteen and have been stuck bartending to make ends meet for the past seventeen years, you realize plans don’t always pan out, and that there some things you just can’t plan for…

PAGES: 306
GENRES: realistic fiction
THEMES: prejudice, discrimination, Mexican-Americans
READALIKES: The Border (Schafer), Watch Us Rise (Watson)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “At once accessible and artful, this is an important book about Mexican teens holding onto hope and friendship in the midst of alcoholism, poverty, prejudice, and despair.” (Kirkus starred review, 1 Feb 2019)

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A Monster Like Me (Wendy S. Swore)

Be sure to the reviews on this one before you buy–they do not all agree. I’ve included two opposing excerpts below.

Sophie is a monster expert. Thanks to her Big Book of Monsters and her vivid imagination, Sophie can identify the monsters in her school and neighborhood. Clearly, the bullies are trolls and goblins. Her nice neighbor must be a good witch, and Sophie’s new best friend is obviously a fairy. But what about Sophie? She’s convinced she is definitely a monster because of the “monster mark” on her face. At least that’s what she calls it. The doctors call it a blood tumor. Sophie tries to hide it but it covers almost half her face. And if she’s a monster on the outside, then she must be a monster on the inside, too.

PAGES: 298
GENRES: realistic fiction
THEMES: facial hemangioma, disfigurement
READALIKES: Wonder (Palacio), Ugly (Hoge)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred

REVIEW #1: “The mishmash of monstrosity and magic with world religions is as unfortunate as the placement of generic Native characters in the service of this white girl; that she has a Latina doctor would be nice except that the highly atypical spelling of her doctor’s surname (“Escabar”) will likely throw Latinx readers. Skip.” (Kirkus, 1 Feb 2019)

REVIEW #2: “Swore’s character-driven debut, in the vein of R. J. Palacio’s Wonder (2012), allows readers to step inside Sophie’s thoughts and to understand and empathize with her, leaving them to wonder how they would react if they were Sophie.” (Booklist starred review, 1 Feb 2019)

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Nikki on the Line (Barbara Carroll Roberts)

Thirteen-year-old Nikki Doyle dreams of becoming a great basketball player like her WNBA idol, Mia McCall. Nikki has always been the best point guard in her county league, and her dreams feel within reach when she’s selected to play on an elite-level club team. But in a league with taller, stronger, and faster girls, it turns out that Nikki is no longer the best point guard. In fact, she’s no longer a point guard at all, which leaves her struggling to figure out who she is and how she fits in.

PAGES: 336
GENRES: sports, realistic fiction
THEMES: basketball, fitting in, elite sports
READALIKES: Roller Girl (Jamieson)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “This accessible coming-of-age story comes alive in its descriptions of basketball and the game’s resulting life lessons. Recommended for most collections.” (SLJ, 1 Mar 2019)

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We’re Not From Here (Geoff Rodkey)

The first time I heard about Planet Choom, we’d been on Mars for almost a year. But life on the Mars station was grim, and since Earth was no longer an option (we may have blown it up), it was time to find a new home. That’s how we ended up on Choom with the Zhuri. They’re very smart. They also look like giant mosquitoes. But that’s not why it’s so hard to live here. There’s a lot that the Zhuri don’t like: singing (just ask my sister, Ila), comedy (one joke got me sent to the principal’s office), or any kind of emotion. The biggest problem, though? The Zhuri don’t like us. And if humankind is going to survive, it’s up to my family to change their minds. No pressure.

PAGES: 256
GENRES: science fiction
THEMES: immigration
READALIKES: The Last Kids on Earth (Brallier)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Rodkey explores heady concepts such as immigration, tolerance, culture shock, and relative humor in this slapstick-laden allegory, and the story’s lighthearted tone offers an age-appropriate handling of the somber issues and dire circumstances fueling its premise.” (Publisher’s Weekly starred review, 7 Jan 2019)

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Tito the Bonecrusher (Melissa Thompson)

Oliver “Spaghetti-O” Jones’s dad is about to be jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, and Oliver believes the only way to save him is with the help of his favorite lucha-libre wrestler turned action star, Tito the Bonecrusher. Together with his best friend, Brianna (a.k.a. “Brain”), and their new ally Paul “Popcorn” Robards, Oliver devises a madcap plan to spring his dad from a Florida detention center. Heartwarming and hilarious, this book looks at what it takes to be a hero…and what happens when you realize that saving the day might not always be possible.

PAGES: 240
GENRES: realistic fiction, action-adventure, humor
THEMES: immigration, heroes
READALIKES: Boy Bites Bug (Petruck), Takedown (Shovan)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “An engaging and entertaining story that sensitively explores the challenge of seeing flaws in oneself and those one admires.” (Publishers Weekly, 14 Jan 2019)

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Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (Carlos Hernandez)

When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared.

Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess…except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken–including his dead mother–and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with.

PAGES: 400
GENRES: humor, science fiction
THEMES: magic, grief, death of a parent
READALIKES: The Storm Runner (Cervantes)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, Kirkus starred, SLJ starred, Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Secondary characters receive as much care and love as the primary cast, and readers will find themselves laughing out loud and rooting for Sal, Gabi, and even Yasmany until the very end. This book, drenched in Cuban Spanish and personality, is a breath of fresh air.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Jan 2019)

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Far Away (Lisa Graff)

CJ’s Aunt Nic is a psychic medium who tours the country speaking to spirits from Far Away, passing on messages from the dearly departed. And CJ knows firsthand how comforting those messages can be — Aunt Nic’s Gift is the only way CJ can talk to her mom, who died just hours after she was born.

So when CJ learns that she won’t be able to speak to her mother anymore, even with Aunt Nic’s help, she’s determined to find a work-around. She sets off on road trip with her new friend Jax to locate the one object that she believes will tether her mother’s spirit back to Earth…but what she finds along the way challenges every truth she’s ever known. Ultimately, CJ has to sort out the reality from the lies.

PAGES: 272
GENRES: realistic fiction
THEMES: psychic medium, grief
READALIKES: Short (Sloan)
STARS AND AWARDS: Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Graff nimbly crafts a credible novel from the unlikely, shaping layered characters and unforeseen plot twists while exploring issues of truth and illusion-and the emotion-infused miasma that separates the two. A genuinely moving and memorable story.” (Publishers Weekly starred review, 7 Jan 2019)

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The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly (Rebecca Ansari)

Debut author! Charlie O’Reilly is an only child. Which is why it makes everyone uncomfortable when he talks about his brother. Liam. His eight-year-old kid brother, who, up until a year ago, slept in the bunk above Charlie, took pride in being as annoying as possible, and was the only person who could make Charlie laugh until it hurt.

Then came the morning when the bunk, and Liam, disappeared forever. No one even remembers him–not Charlie’s mother, who has been lost in her own troubles; and not Charlie’s father, who is gone frequently on business trips. The only person who believes Charlie is his best friend, Ana–even if she has no memory of Liam, she is as determined as Charlie is to figure out what happened to him.

PAGES: 400
GENRES: fantasy, magical realism
THEMES: grief, missing persons
READALIKES: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (Legrand)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “An original premise, tear-jerker twists, and a touching message about forgiveness make this a must-have on every middle grade shelf.” (SLJ starred review, 1 Dec 2018)

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Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank (Nancy Churnin and Yevgenia Nayberg)

Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. were born the same year a world apart. Both faced ugly prejudices and violence, which both answered with words of love and faith in humanity. This is the story of their parallel journeys to find hope in darkness and to follow their dreams.

GENRES: picture book, parallel biographies
THEMES: Holocaust, US civil rights movement, discrimination, racism, prejudice, adversity
READALIKES: Manjhi Moves a Mountain (Churnin)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “With natural tones of green and brown and stylized faces and forms, the images don’t fall back on King’s iconic look, creating instead a fresh tapestry of landscapes and humanity. A surprisingly successful and enlightening combination strengthened by striking artwork.” (Kirkus, 15 Feb 2019)

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Another (Christian Robinson)

A young girl and her cat take an imaginative journey into another world.

What if you…
encountered another perspective?
Discovered another world?
Met another you?

What might you do?

GENRES: wordless picture book
THEMES: perspective, art
READALIKES: Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes (Bosak)
STARS AND AWARDS: Hornbook starred, Kirkus starred, SLJ starred, SLJ starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “A fearless use of white space and an utter disregard of conventions of direction encourage readers to engage with the physical book as the story unfolds, touching and turning it as they literally take the narrative into their hands. A bright, open primer for Escher.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Jan 2019)

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Because (Mo Willems, Amber Ren)

Does this book really need a description? The publisher doesn’t seem to think so, and they probably right. Here it is:

Mo Willems, a number one New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, composes a powerful symphony of chance, discovery, persistence, and magic in this moving tale of a young girl’s journey to center stage. Illustrator Amber Ren brings Willems’ music to life, conducting a stunning picture-book debut.

GENRES: picture book
THEMES: music, art
READALIKES: Another (Robinson)
STARS AND AWARDS: Publishers Weekly starred, Booklist starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “While many books celebrate the arts and creativity, this one stands out for recognizing the importance of community support; from the orchestra librarian to the music lovers who purchase tickets, everyone contributes to the culture of creativity.” (Kirkus, 1 Jan 2019)

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Circle (Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen)

Companion to: Triangle and Square. It is planned to be the last in the Shape Trilogy. This book is about Circle. This book is also about Circle’s friends, Triangle and Square. Also it is about a rule that Circle makes, and how she has to rescue Triangle when he breaks that rule.

GENRES: picture book
THEMES: friendship, shapes
READALIKES: We Found a Hat (Klassen), Square (Barnett), Seven Blind Mice (Young)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Sure to please fans of Square and Triangle, this entry is just as likely to draw in plenty of new readers, too. Recommended.” (SLJ, 1 Feb 2019)

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Wings (Cheryl B. Klein, Tomie dePaola)

This is another one with conflicting reviews. I’ve included two review excerpts below.

With a cleverly simple rhyme and playful, vibrant artwork, Cheryl B. Klein and Tomie dePaola lovingly paint the picture of a baby bird’s first flight–overcoming stings and dings along the way to soar triumphantly.

GENRES: picture book
THEMES: overcoming fear, gaining independence
READALIKES: Mouse’s First Spring (Thompson), Monkey Time (Hall)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, Publishers Weekly starred

REVIEW #1: “An artful curiosity and perhaps a challenge for writing units, but not a great picture book.” (Kirkus, 15 Feb 2019)

REVIEW #2: “Beautifully extending the words’ clever minimalism, the simple, subtly dimensional shapes and lush, translucent colorations (the nest itself is a panoply of purples, blues, and browns) make this simple story soar.” (Publishers Weekly, 10 Dec 2019)

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The Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon
(Suzanne Slade and Alan Marks)

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took one small step and made history. Over the course of the next three-and-a-half years, twelve lunar explorers, including Alan Shepard and Gene Cernan, touched down on the moon’s surface. Author and engineer Suzanne Slade reveals how the Apollo missions (1969-1972) built upon one another and led to important discoveries about our nearest neighbor in space. Back matter includes an afterword by Alan Bean (1932-2018), the fourth person to walk on the moon.

GENRES: picture book
THEMES: astronauts, the moon
READALIKES: Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon (Thimmesh); Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race (Shetterly)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “The information about U.S. space travel, coupled with vivid illustrations, will appeal to readers interested in astronauts and the moon. The ample facts and data following the illustrated story make the book effective for a wide range of ages.” (SLJ, 1 Mar 2019)

This week’s sequels (YA):

This week’s sequels (Middle Grades):

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This list also appears on my New Releases–Weekly Board on Pinterest:


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